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  • Writer's pictureK.C. Dreisbach, LMFT

2 Reasons Why Deep Breathing Doesn't Work

Deep breathing is one of the most popular relaxation techniques that therapists teach, BUT it's also one of the skills that 99% of people try with practically 0% effectiveness. There's a reason for this, and I'm going teach you the 2 reasons why deep breathing isn't working for you.

In my Anti-Anxiety Workshop, I teach 2 different breathing techniques that my clients use together, as well as some other skills.

Box Breathing is the first technique I teach. Just Google "Box Breathing," and you'll find tons of websites that show you how to do it. There's a reason for this... it WORKS! If it isn't working for you, you're making 1 of the following 2 errors:

1. Failing to engage the diaphragm - You can't just take a deep breath. You have to do Diaphragmatic Breathing OR fill the lungs so much with air, that some air travels into the belly. If you don't do this part, NO "deep breathing" practice will work for you. It'll be a waste of your time.

2. Failure to meet the time requirement - It's not enough to just "deep breathe." Deep Breathing (when done correctly as mentioned above), triggers your Vagus Nerve. This is a special nerve that travels up the spinal column and into the brain. AND, this nerve is your absolute BEST FREIND.

When you stimulate the Vagus Nerve, that nerve signals to the brain to activate your relaxation response. When your relaxation response is activated, you'll notice your anxiety and stress decrease and you'll start to feel better.

BUT, the Vagus Nerve needs to be stimulated for a minimum length of time in order for it to activate your relaxation response. What's that time? 45 seconds!

Most people will deep breathe for only 20-30 seconds before giving up on this technique, saying- "It doesn't work! It's not helping!"

Well, of course it's not working! You're not doing the technique long enough in order for it to have an effect. But that's not your fault!

Most people, even trained therapists, don't know this part of deep breathing. I didn't even learn this stuff until YEARS after my graduate program in psychology. I had to take extra, advanced trainings in neuroscience and treating anxiety before I learned this stuff! Seriously though, it has made ALL the difference for my clients (both, in therapy and in coaching).

That's it! If deep breathing isn't working for you, then one (or both) of these things aren't happening.

Next time you try to practice deep breathing, be sure you're engaging the diaphragm when you breathe. You should feel as though your abdomen is all "squished."

Then, be sure to use a clock with a second hand to keep track of the time. Make sure you're doing the breathwork for that minimum of 45 seconds.

I hope that was helpful! If you think you need more help learning how to use breathwork effectively to manage your anxiety or stress, consider joining my Anti-Anxiety Workshop where I teach these techniques with more detail.

Or, if you think you would like to work with me 1-on-1, give me a call to schedule a consult and see if I'm a good fit for you and your needs.


Do you want to learn how to do Box Breathing? Download my free printable infographic that gives you step-by-step instructions on how to practice Box Breathing the right way. Get your Box Breathing pdf here.


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Krystal Dreisbach is a licensed therapist, mindset coach, adjunct professor of counseling, and published author.  Her specialties include depression treatment, anxiety counseling, stress management support, and mindset coaching.  Learn more about Krystal and see how she can help you live a better life.

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